ield trips were an important part of every elementary school curriculum during the 1950s-1960s. Students marched out of school buildings and into waiting yellow school busses for the generally short ride to area attractions in an effort to expose young children to “culture.” There were trips to museums, manufacturing plants, special art exhibits, and other activities of the day. None, however, was ever as historic as the 1950s visits to the Columbus Zoo, Columbus, Ohio, and the encounter with Colo, the young gorilla.
Colo was a Western Gorilla, born on December 22, 1956, at the Columbus Zoo. The baby’s birth demanded worldwide media coverage because Colo was the first gorilla born anywhere in the world in captivity.
People flocked from all over the United States and other parts of the world to see the precious baby gorilla. Many participated in a contest to name the gorilla. The name Colo was eventually chosen as it incorporated some of the letters from the word “Columbus.”
Schools scheduled student trips from various areas of Ohio to Columbus so kids could see the famous gorilla. The big yellow busses traveled from the schools to a huge parking area specifically assigned for that purpose which was in close proximity to the building where Colo was exhibited. Many thousands of kids made the trip to the site, and often more than once. Some schools scheduled yearly visits to the place, generally in May during the closing days of the school academic year.
The ride from the Triad School District was generally about one-and-one-half hours from North Lewisburg, or Woodstock, or Cable. Kids kept themselves amused on the busses with conversations, jokes, songs, and lots of laughter and other noise. Each usually carried a sack lunch, or a carefully packed lunchbox, filled with traditional sandwiches, fruit, milk, juice, and some kind of snack. Kids also carried “spending money,” limited funds so they could purchase other items while on the zoo grounds. But, most importantly, the money was intended to pay for the tickets which were required to “ride the rides” at the well-equipped amusement park. Everybody planned to ride! But first came the compulsory visit to see Colo.
Some of the kids…especially the girls…found the little gorilla “cute,” or “cuddly,” or “adorable.” Most of the boys took a cursory look at the little and then moved out of the way so other kids could crowd up to the plate glass window while they awaited the “all clear” which would permit them to take off in small groups to explore the rest of the zoo, or…more importantly…the rides in the amusement park.
Kids and adult guides generally gathered somewhere familiar to all for the mandatory lunch period. Foods were quickly consumed or conveniently tossed away so the kids could get back to the real task of the day…a return to the rides! The smart ones had already taken advantage of the earlier opportunity to ride the gut-retching roller coaster or other popular rides. They then rarely faced the after-lunch vomiting sessions which often accompanied the more demanding rides.
At the appointed time, the kids reassembled with their adult chaperones. Heads were counted, names were checked off of lists, and everyone boarded the busses for the return trip home. Upon arrival back at the school, kids were dismissed to make their way home to share the day’s adventures with parents and siblings.
Colo, the object of affection for so many students over the years, has lived an active life at the Columbus Zoo. More than five generations of the great apes have been born and raised at the zoo, many of them Colo’s descendants. In December, 2014, Colo will celebrate her 58th birthday at the Columbus Zoo. Perhaps it will be time for many of us “kids” to make a return visit to that popular spot to pay tribute for this truly amazing matron.